Artist of the Week: FC Etier Searching for Images that Speak to Him
November 30, 2011
His official name in the world of art and photography is FC Etier. His friends call him Chip. And he’s always easy to recognize. He’s the one with the camera strapped around his neck, the one who smiles and nods while you talk even though his eyes are in constant motion, always searching for the next image, large or small, that reaches out when least expected and catches his attention.
FC Etier never intended to be an artist. He never gave much thought to the fact that someday his work would hang on gallery walls and, even more importantly, on the walls of some stranger’s home.
Yet even as a young boy, Etier and his camera were inseparable. The camera was small, cheap, and his window on the world.
He was the annoying kid at social gatherings and family reunions who kept running around, taking quick, shoot-from-the hip snapshots, always herding groups together for one more shot, for one last shot, and he never did get around to taking that last shot. Time just ran out. He would always feel frustrated because he still had exposures left on the film after everyone had gone.
He loved the photographs he had captured.
He terribly regretted those he had missed.
FC Etier was never satisfied.
He grew up along the bayous of central Louisiana. His vision of the landscape around him was a bastion of natural photographic settings back among strange cypress knees that had been tucked away in boggy swamps, rivers winding through the forests, and Spanish moss dangling from the aching limbs of great oak trees.
But photography, he thought, was simply a hobby and nothing more. He set it aside and dutifully went to college at Northeast Louisiana University in Monroe, becoming a pharmacist. His camera was merely his weekend release. After awhile, his camera had no intention of ever releasing him.
Etier and his wife, Kathryn Elizabeth, uprooted themselves after Hurricane Katrina devastated the sanctity of South Louisiana, and they moved to the Appalachians of North Carolina. Stretching before him was a brand new portal to the world, not quite like anything he had ever seen before: rushing waterfalls flowing from the rocks, hidden roads wandering back into hollows where few ever ventured anymore, majestic mountain ranges with their peaks stuck in the clouds.
For her birthday, he gave his wife a nice Pentax single lens reflex camera. It wasn’t what she wanted. All she needed, she thought, was an easy-to-use point and shoot.
She said, “This is my birthday present, isn’t it?”
“So I can do whatever I want to do with it.”
“Okay,” she said. “I’m giving it back to you.”
She wound up with the point-and-shoot camera he wanted, and Etier began a new career.
He said, “That first year, I shot more than ten thousand pictures, most of them black and white.” The great experiment had begun. He bought a long lens, a book on the art of using proper exposures, and he learned that he could control the light, the composition, and catch the image his mind had imagined. Etier had always possessed an artistic eye. Now he had the knowledge and the camera to take artistic photographs as well.
Etier took a bonus check from his job as a Wal-Mart pharmacist and purchased a Canon system with a lens for every occasion. He attended a seminar at the Rocky Mountain School of Photography, and he knew he would never be completely happy unless he was watching the complexities of angles, shapes, and shadows through the viewfinder of a camera.
He carried his work to a few arts and crafts shows and had them placed in galleries in both Asheville and Waynesville, North Carolina. He sold his first photograph, an 8 X 10, black and white, image of an old, rusting anvil that had set for so long in his father’s backyard in Mangham, Louisiana. It was, he said, a simple subject and a simple composition. But someone had wanted it. Someone had liked it well enough to pay a few dollars for it.
FC Etier never left home without his camera again. It rides alongside of him in his pickup truck because he never knows when he will stumble across an image that appeals to him. Just maybe, he figures, it will appeal to someone else, too.
It may be a landscape.
It may be an old nail hammered crookedly in the rail of a wooden bridge.
It may be scraps of wood piled on the table in a workshop. Interesting shapes. Interesting angles. Watch how the light spills through the cracks in the window. For Etier, it is hypnotic.
It may be a split-rail fence winding down a forgotten autumn lane.
It may the ghostly specter of a cypress tree in the fog.
It may be timbered mountain ridges at sunrise, sundown, or lost in the haze of a blue mist.
As he points out, “I was in an automobile garage in Gulfport, Mississippi, and saw a half dozen sparkplugs bunched together. Once again, it was the simplicity that grabbed him. Once again, it was a photograph that sold.
On most occasions, while driving through the countryside, his attention is drawn to a subject, but it may be the wrong light in the wrong time of day. Etier knows that structure of the image won’t change, but, sooner or later, the light will. He returns and is waiting when the right ray of sun touches the image in just the right place. He may wait for hours, then have only a single moment or two before the light is gone again. An artist is never impatient. A photographic artist paints with light instead of oils, acrylics, or watercolors.
Etier says, “I look for subjects that speak to me and try to capture what they are saying. I try to translate those feelings, those emotions, those silent words into an image that, I hope, speaks to others as well.”
The ones that speak poetry are the ones that sell.